Archive for February, 2012


A Tribute to Valentine’s Day – Late As Usual

February 23, 2012

Here is a video that you won’t want to miss, especially if (like me) you really want to capture the “reason for the Valentine’s Season…well, maybe for next year?


The Solution to False Beliefs in Marriage

February 22, 2012

Jenny dragged Lawrence into my office. They had been married for 14 months and I was dismayed they were already having marriage problems. Granted, Jenny had been married twice before and Lawrence once, but they had changed a lot since their previous marriages; and I was sure all the premarital counseling we had done would preempt future crises. Of course, I was wrong.

Jenny had grown up with a father who was physically violent and cruel. Twice, he broke her arm and once gave her a skull fracture. She left home at seventeen and never regretted it. She became quite successful as a flight attendant and married a pilot. After ten years of marriage, he also became violent and at one point hit her so hard he knocked her unconscious. She eventually divorced him and remained single for several years. When she did marry again, it was to a very gentle, kind man (her words). After five years of marriage, however, he also became abusive. She immediately filed for divorce and moved. She ended up in our fellowship of Christians where she met Lawrence. He was also a gentle man, something I could readily affirm. By his own account, he had never hit anyone in his life. He abhorred violence and he came across to Jenny as loving and stable.

But here is why she brought him into my office. She had begun noticing a change in attitude over the previous few months. She couldn’t quite identify what had changed, but she was frantically worried he would hurt her. I can imagine  you reading this thinking “I can see why she would think that. Every man in her life had done this”. But I suspected something deeper and more sinister was afoot. I asked Jenny to leave my office and asked Lawrence to stay. I looked him square in the eye and said, “Lawrence, do you ever feel like hitting Jenny?” He looked everywhere else but in my eyes. As he studied his feet, I asked the question again.

“Mike, I have never hit anyone in my life” he said.

“I know Lawrence. You’ve told me. Answer my question”

“Sometimes, I have this overwhelming urge to hit her. I don’t know where it’s coming from, but it worries me.”

I brought Jenny back in the room and immediately asked Lawrence to tell her what he had admitted to me. Reluctantly, he faced up to her and admitted the truth about his thoughts. She exploded and ran out of my office. What happened in the next hour was one of the greatest revelations I have ever received in 30 years of counseling. But before I get to the rest of her story, I want to build a framework for the solution we found.

In a previous blog post, I noted several beliefs that could ruin a marriage. All of our emotions and actions stem from things we believe. Therefore, when emotions and behavior are ruining a relationship, you can be sure that some kind of warped belief system is at the root. Root beliefs (also known as “core beliefs”) are not thrust upon us. We always choose what we will believe. There are some behavioral psychologists who teach the inevitability of some beliefs. For instance, they may claim that all abuse victims grow up with a belief that power has been taken away from them. That certainly is true of many people, but not even most abuse victims feel the loss of personal control. There are abuse victims who feel guilty; others feel fear; still others focus on shame. As we grow (especially between the ages of 5–10), we are presented with thousands of choices about what we will believe about life, other people and ourselves. Any number of these beliefs may doggedly hang on into adulthood, severely affecting our relationships and marriages.

What is the solution? There are four steps to any process of solving the problems caused by false beliefs. These steps may take anywhere from a few minutes to a few weeks to enact, but there is no way to bypass any of them.

1. Acknowledge that your emotional reactions and negative behavior are always the result of something you believe. Too often, we want to maintain our emotions are simple reactions to simple causes. But many times, our reactions do not line up with the force of our reality. We often react too strongly to minor causes, or, in some cases, react weakly to major causes. We then try to blame our behavior on our partner. What we do with this is take responsibility away from our own belief system. For instance, I know a woman who, when she learned of her husband’s affair, went out and had a one-night stand. Then she came home and told him about it. When we were in counseling, she steadfastly held to the position that her actions were justified. Months later, we came to the conclusion her actions were based on a belief that she needed to take revenge when people hurt her or they would continue to hurt her.

2. Identify the belief at the source of the action or emotion. How do you do that? If you recall the incidents leading up to your behavior, ask yourself what you were feeling. As you focus on the feeling, note what thoughts go through your mind. In those thoughts you will identify some beliefs. Those beliefs, in their basic form, are what you need to focus on next. The woman who had the one-night stand had anger. But with the anger was a sense of fear. As she followed the fear in her mind, she had a thought that if she let her husband get away with his behavior, he would keep doing things to her like that. Her belief was that only revenge will stop the pain.

3. Follow the Belief to its Source. We do not usually come to false beliefs as adults. Generally, they have lodged themselves somewhere in our childhood memories. As you focus on the belief and the emotions surrounding that belief, recall a time when you felt and thought the same way as a child. It shouldn’t take too long if you’re being honest. When a memory comes (even if it isn’t all that clear how it connects with the present) walk through it again. Note the things you were feeling and believing in that memory.

4. Ask God to come and show you the truth in the memory. When we allow a false belief to take root in our souls, we cannot destroy it by outthinking it. We must get external input to help us make a decision. Our one-night-stand woman followed her belief back to a time when her brother bullied her constantly. After one time, he pulled her hair so hard she fell down and chipped a tooth. That night, she got a tennis racket and went into his room while he was sleeping and started to beat on him. All she remembers is that he never bullied her again. From that day on, she vowed she would never allow another person to hurt her without paying them back. As she walked through this memory, she invited God to speak truth. God showed her that revenge is not going to work. He showed her that her brother and her were never really close after that. God pointed out that she traded revenge for reconciliation and she was doing that in her marriage also. She chose to let go of the revenge belief and it helped to put her relationship back together with her husband.

As I worked in counseling with Jenny, I also explained that our inner beliefs do have an effect on our deepest relationships. Her personal belief was all men will hurt her. She lived this out in such a way that it affected the men around her. Don’t get me wrong; the men in her life who had hurt her were completely to blame for their actions. But she also had to come to grips with the reality that her belief made their actions easier. She and I walked through the four steps mentioned above and she heard from God that not all men will hurt her –  and she forgave her dad and the other men for what they had done. Since that time, Lawrence has reported absolutely no recurrence of the inner prompting to hit her. And from that day, her fear of being hurt has vanished.

This can apply to any false belief. Though it won’t change your partner all the time, it will change you; and if you are changed, then that will change the core nature of the relationship.


One of the Most Wonderful Letters a President Ever Wrote

February 20, 2012

In the 1993 NCAA basketball finals, Chris Webber and his Michigan Wolverines were down by two points with several seconds left. On the inbounds pass, Webber called a timeout – except he didn’t have a timeout left! Because of that blunder, they lost the championship. It was one of the greatest mistakes ever made by a star athlete.

Several months later, President Bill Clinton sent Chris Webber the following letter:

Dear Chris,

I have been thinking of you a lot since I sat glued to the TV during the championship game.

I know that there may be nothing I or anyone else can say to ease the pain and disappointment of what happened.

Still, for whatever it’s worth, you, and your team, were terrific. And part of playing for high stakes under great pressure is the constant risk of mental error. I know. I have lost two political races and made countless mistakes over the last twenty years. What matters is the intensity, integrity, and courage you bring to the effort. That is certainly what you have done. You can always regret what occurred but don’t let it get you down or take away the satisfaction of what you have accomplished.

You have a great future. Hang in there.

Bill Clinton

I can only imagine the impact that letter had on Chris Webber. As a Sacramento Kings fan, I saw Webber turn into one of the greatest power forwards of all time. I believe that Clinton’s letter was one of the things that helped him get over his mistake.

Do you have a letter like that in you today? Is there a “failure” in your life that could  use a letter of encouragement?


How The Church Will Die

February 18, 2012

Mike Breen (from this article) has an interesting take on his examination of today’s American brand of Church. He often does an exercise with people he is discipling and asks “If the Enemy could bring you down and destroy you, how is he most likely to accomplish it?”

He then asks that question of the American Church. He sees three things that are going to bring us down:

And so this is how, if our enemy gets his way, the American church could be taken out:

A culture of CELEBRITY (affirmation)

A culture of CONSUMERISM (appetite)

A culture of COMPETITION (ambition)

I resonate especially with the competition factor. It is almost impossible these days to meet with a group of pastors and not see significant evidence of the “strutting Rooster” syndrome.

What do you think could destroy the American Church?


How to be a Bad Parent – in One Easy Lesson

February 10, 2012

I almost never do this, but I am going to react to a video posted online. I am doing this because over a dozen of my friends posted this on Facebook and most of them (excluding my good friend Ken and one other person) paraded this around as an example of great parenting. It is not.

This is the opposite of great parenting. 

Here is the video. Watch it and come back for my “expert” analysis.

There are at least six things wrong with what he does here…and what is behind what he does.

1. He is Escalating the Confrontation. In family therapy terms, he is “stair-stepping” emotionally. This means he is reacting to her emotional fit on Facebook with a video that shows an even more dramatic display. Believe me, a handgun trumps an opinion expressed to friends every time. If you want to show a teen they are being disrespectful, you come down a notch emotionally and refuse to enter into their histrionics. Police officers will tell you that domestic disputes get out of hand when one person feels they have to “top” the emotions of the other person. What does the daughter do now in this family? Either she will do something even more dramatic than the dad, or she will feel cowed by his antics and shut down completely. My guess is that he has not earned her respect but her loathing.

2. He teaches “do as I command, not as I model”. He tells her to refrain from profanity and his speech is laced with profanity. This is like the parent who keeps preaching respect while showing no respect. I understand that parents aren’t perfect either. But this dad just wants to be the “boss” so much that he thinks his profanity is justified because “she started it“. My guess is she is simply mirroring what Cowboy Dad does every day; and he doesn’t like having a mirror held up to his soul.

3. His Anger is Not Focused: Generally in working with anyone, you must stick to one (or at the most, two) things that anger you. If he had just stuck with the “why did you have to shame us publicly” message, that would have more powerful. But he brings in the cost of the software, the language used, the disrespect for Linda, the “cleaning lady”. (It appears Linda is one of his clients who is paying for his services by cleaning their house. Why on earth does he allow Linda to clean this girl’s room in the first place?) He is one of those parents who stores up the grievances and then lets them all out at once.

4. A Handgun? Seriously? Telling the world that mom wants him to take a shot for her? This is what we tell our friends we wanted to do to the laptop. Adults don’t do this. Felons do this. No wonder this is such a wonderfully respectful family. This says to the kids “when you reach your boiling point, shoot something.”

5. If you strip out the profanity, his daughter actually does have some valid points. At least, she has every right to express her anger. What she does wrong is tell the world on Facebook and lace it with angry invective. If this is dad’s approach to dealing with his children, I can see why she feels she needs to take this to the masses. She isn’t right by any stretch of the imagination, but I can understand her. A good parent needs to keep the conversation going and enact consequences when kids won’t listen. Take away the laptop. Ground her until she moves out. But keep talking. The old adage “keep talking, I’m reloading” makes for a funny bumper-sticker. It is not good parenting.

6. In all Mr. Gun-toting Cowboy’s stream of anger, what he really is telling her is “don’t disrespect me”. I have a gun, I am in charge and you will tow the line. I have seen parents take this approach a lot and I can guarantee you it only alienates children. A good parent models respect by showing it, not by demanding it.  As an example, look at the book “To Kill a Mockingbird”. Can you imagine Atticus Finch demanding his children respect him? When Jem and Scout sneak out to watch him on the steps of the jail (without permission), he seeks to understand, not to alienate them. The whole town respects Atticus because he has shown them respect. It is the father of the supposed rape victim that demands respect. And he never gets it. I wonder why?


False Beliefs That Can Ruin a Marriage

February 8, 2012

Cathy’s husband wiped his oil-stained hands on the rag beside his workbench. As he came into the house, he realized the rag was getting so dirty there wasn’t enough ‘clean’ on it to sustain another wiping. He saw Cathy reading the newspaper and casually remarked “Remind me to wash all the rags in the garage before Monday.” Cathy dropped the newspaper, narrowed her eyes and stared at him. Then she said, with an acidic tone: “I will have you know I worked hard today. I didn’t get around to the garage after cleaning both cars, wiping little kiddie butts and straightening out the mess with the IRS.”

Within 2 hours, Cathy was in the car headed for her parents house, leaving behind a bewildered husband and two preschoolers. Within two years, they were divorced. Her husband had no idea what hit him.

My wife used to work on a hospital ward devoted to people with emotional challenges. One of her regular patients was a young man who used to have code words to identify “unsafe” people. The problem was, no one knew what the code word of the day was until you said it. He would randomly collect the first word that went through his head. If anyone said that word throughout the day, he would refuse to talk to them for the rest of that day. Nurses and doctors were left to wonder what part of their speech had produced the silence. It might be a simple word like “talk” or something more complicated such as “remember”.

Cathy and this young man in the hospital had exactly the same problem. They exhibited this problem to different degrees, but essentially it is the same problem. Cathy and the patient were both operating on a false premise. The young man’s false belief was that a spoken word could identify a dangerous person. We will discuss Cathy’s false belief at the end of this article –  suffice to say, it is just as real as the young schizophrenic.

The false beliefs we gather to ourselves over the years become like tendrils of kudzu that wind their way around every healthy thought, seeking to choke the life out of them. Nowhere does this show its effects more than marriage. Allow me to quickly summarize several of the most common false beliefs and how they affect husbands and wives. At the end, I will use Cathy to show how the false belief infiltrates a person who would otherwise function quite well in society.

Here then are the most common false beliefs that can ruin a marriage:

  1. Independence: This is the belief that we really don’t need anyone else in life. It has a 100 variations, but they all focus on the self-sufficiency of the individual. This belief prevents a spouse from allowing the other person to get close, to interact on a deep level or to partner in marital goals. Those with Independence beliefs often have separate bank accounts, enjoy much different life pursuits than their partners, stop short of really expressing their needs, are constantly making new friends and discarding older ones and run away when they are asked to make deep commitments to their partner.
  2. Abandonment: A person with abandonment beliefs sees many situations as the springboard for their spouse leaving them. These beliefs are often accompanied by fear and result in both over-accommodating behavior and flashes of rage. The person with abandonment premises will constantly ask their spouse to account for their whereabouts. They will express how insecure they feel about the future. When their spouse criticizes them even moderately, they will say things like “well why don’t you just leave. I know you want to”.
  3. Love based on Performance: This belief says “I will not be loved unless I perform adequately”. Those who hold to this foundation often are overly critical of their spouses, seeking to bring down the performance of another person to elevate themselves. They can become workaholics, alcoholics, clean freaks, clingy, anorexic, bulemic, suicidal, or obsessive-compulsive. Their core idea is that must constantly be doing something to earn or deserve the love they receive from their spouse. It doesn’t help to tell them they are loved –  they won’t really believe it.
  4. Love Will Not Be There: There is an equally large group of people who just assume they will not be loved no matter how hard they try. Many of them just give up without really trying. These people will often test their partner by failing in really obvious ways in order to see how the other person will react. This belief can even push them into relationships with people they don’t really care about, just to prove they don’t care if they’re not loved. In addition, people with this belief may question their spouses to death, showing a total lack of trust.
  5. Alone: There is a common belief with many people that they are going to be alone. This is similar to the abandonment belief, but it has a nasty twist. They don’t really think a person is going to leave; they are more fatalistic than that. They often fear their spouse will die, or will be swept away in an unavoidable situation. They therefore go through life with few boundaries, allowing their partners to do anything they want to them, fearing the relationship is simply on borrowed time.
  6. Shame: This is a simple belief, but deadly. It is the core understanding a person carries that there is something wrong with them. When they were children, it came out as “I am stupid”, “I am going to be beat up”, “I can’t ever get this right”. In adulthood, this person often allows their spouse to find many things wrong with them, accepting blame when they have done little wrong. Shame beliefs foster such behavior as closet drinking, sexual deviancy, serial adultery, lying, self-mutilation, depression, anxiety disorders and even violence.
  7. Helplessness: These beliefs (and there are many) come from situations in childhood where a person was treated unfairly and given no recourse to bring closure to the issue. This unfair treatment leads a person to conclude they will never get a fair shake, and therefore they need to protect themselves. Helpless beliefs can result in adultery, pornography obsession, eating disorders, obsessive drug use, phobias, prostitution, violence, angry speech, etc. These beliefs often result in the worst of behaviors, since the behaviors are often ways of bringing a sense of “control” back into their lives.
  8. Escape: These beliefs focus on the only way to deal with reality –  run away from it. Every time life gets hard, this inner belief is triggered and the person finds some way to get away from it all. This often cuts the other spouse out of the picture and hurts them deeply. Most people with this belief abuse substances or use sex as an escape. Compulsive masturbation, compulsive gambling and spending are often seen.

There are other beliefs than these, but I have found this list to be the most common. But every person brings their peculiar beliefs into a marriage. When two people come into a marriage relationship with false beliefs, this mixes up a soup of disaster. Let me show you how it worked with Cathy.

She had a belief that no matter how hard she tried, everyone who mattered to her would eventually leave. You would think this sprung from a traumatic childhood experience, but the roots were very simple. Her two older sisters were both hippies and moved out of the house quite young. They had been best buddies to Cathy and now she was the only child left at home. Her mother reacted to her oldest daughters leaving by drinking gin every night until she passed out. Dad dealt with his wife’s inebriation by working 60 hour weeks. Cathy spent most of her days quite alone with her thoughts.

In high school, she made up for this sense of being abandoned by trying to over-compensate. She became hyper-flirtatious and joined every club at school. But because she feared being dumped, she often got clingy with both boy and girls. The result of this clinginess was that people didn’t want to have anything to do with her. Thus, they fulfilled her fear and abandoned her. This just served to reinforce her fear. In order to overcome this, she tried even harder to get people to stay with her. With her girlfriends, she was known as the one who would help out in every way. She spent her own money and bought gifts, helped with homework, staying up half the night sewing cheerleader outfits for her friends. With boys, she basically allowed them to take any sexual liberties they wanted. Yet, despite this extra effort, people still got tired of how hard she was trying and rejected her.

When she married her husband Ben, she really wanted to overcome this. She knew she tried too hard, so she sought to back off and give him breathing space. But her fears kept growing. So often she would get angry and say “Why don’t you just leave? I know you’re going to leave”. Her fear led her to get violent at times, hitting Ben in the head. She sometimes even took out her anger on the little girls.

The day she left, her fear of abandonment had been acute for weeks before. She determined she was going to solve this fear by praying every morning and then serving her husband in love. She had been reading a few books on Christian marriage and she read that if you serve in love it will cast out fear. Now, that is a good principle, but it was no match for her false belief. For a week or more, she tried to anticipate Ben’s every need. But it was exhausting. By the end of the work week, she was an emotional wreck.

When Ben came in and innocently mentioned the grease rag, it echoed against her deeply-ingrained fear. He had one more demand she couldn’t meet. Something inside her snapped and she realized her fear had only been submerged in her cleaning and service. Now, it came rushing out with a fury. Even though Ben had not been criticizing her at all, that is what she heard. False beliefs often affect our hearing, causing us to interpret all communication according to the matrix of the belief. Cathy left and never returned. Her example is repeated millions of times a year, by both men and women.

Examine your own life. Can you see evidence of these sort of beliefs?

There is an answer, and it’s quite straight-forward. More about that in the next article.

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